The CW’s Beauty and the Beast actor and diabetes advocate, Austin Basis, has officially released the inaugural comic book series of The KINETIX – his own graphic saga following four amazing teens with disabilities & chronic illnesses, who are high school students by day and a team of superheroes by night. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Basis and his creative partners, Dave Maulbeck & Josh Taub, have begun distributing their 5,500 copies to organizations, charities, libraries, schools, worthwhile programs, and a growing fan base of parents and kids who simply want in on the new concept. The feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive.
We had Austin on the Legion of Leia podcast (which you can listen to right here) back in March to chat about the Kickstarter. We recently got a chance to talk to him again now that the comic is out. He told us all about the difference it’s made to kids with disabilities and the next step for the characters and the series.
Legion of Leia/Vital Thrills: It was so great to have you on a while back! I was so excited to see the comics in person at LA Comic-Con. Can you tell everyone about what might be on the way, now that the Kickstarter was successful?
Austin Basis: I totally welcomed people calling and requests, or emailing requests because hey, it’s sort of a one man show here, trying to mail out these comic books simultaneously. We’re pitching, and in talks to develop it as an animated series. That’s our ultimate goal. You know, other than world domination. So we’re hoping to potentially continue it as an imprint comic book series, with a whole new adventure for us to kind of pitch it to imprint companies that, that would take it as a concept for a series.
Legion of Leia/VitalThills: Can we talk about whether or not you’d do another Kickstarter? What happens if it becomes a series?
Austin Basis: Who knows what’s going to happen. But you know, it’s, it’s just conversations at this point. We haven’t signed anything. And even if we did, we’d probably would be developing it for months or more before they made the choice to announce it. But it’s one of those things where, right now we have all these different directions that we can go in, and the priority was first to satisfy the Kickstarter contract, which was to get copies to the people that pay for it. Part of the bargain was, you get copies, you get your rewards and we use the rest of the copies to send it out. And read it to local schools, libraries. We’re trying to reach out to children’s hospitals and places like that.
I’ve reached out to a couple schools. There is a place called Walton school that teaches kids a second language. The second language is American Sign Language. There’s The California School for the Deaf, again, in this kind of southern California area. There’s a local school where they have a program for twice exceptional kids, meaning kids that have any range of maybe intellectual disabilities but are no less smart or capable than anyone else. So they have a focus program to find what kids are good at. So we’re reaching out to all these people in addition to our own grassroots effort, through friends, family members and extensions of all those people that are interested in something like this.
There’s just the effect that you can see it having. I went to the JDRF. I do a kind of advocacy work with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. I think we talked about this on the podcast. Technically it’s called celebrity ambassador… They had their annual walk at the Rose Bowl a few weeks ago. And it was like the first time I was giving out comic books and the looks on parents’ faces almost more than the kid’s faces… especially when you know, you reach out to organizations like the JDRF and your kid who’s just been diagnosed with type one, and you’re overwhelmed with all this information, all this medical stuff because it’s a lifetime diagnosis that there’s no cure at this point.
So all you’re thinking about is doing this for the rest of your life and then teaching your kid to do it for the rest of their life. And it’s overwhelming. There were people there whose kids had been diagnosed within weeks and this woman and her dad came up and they both got emotional and saying, what you’re doing is like a great thing. And so stuff like that [let’s us know that] we’re going in the right direction. That just makes the past two years of developing this idea so worthwhile because that’s exactly the idea that something, whether it’s an escape or somebody says that seems fun, about having type one diabetes or being deaf or having autism or being born without legs, it’s still life. It’s still good. The idea that, you know, to start at this very moment within weeks of a diagnosis to look beyond that, to know that you could have a normal childhood, you can play high school sports, professional sports, you can be a singer, a doctor or a scientist, you know, there’s nothing that limits you about having something like with type one, and that you could actually use this “perceived weakness” as your greatest strength, or be the source of your greatest strength.
Legion of Leia/VitalThills: What has it been like, getting this response? We all hear that representation matters, and I know that first hand, seeing the Wonder Woman film. What was your reaction?
Austin Basis: You know, I’ve been working professionally since like 2002. For the last 10 or 12 years, like just acting and making a living. And so the idea that every part that I’ve had… I’ve never not been Type 1… when I’ve been on TV series a series regular, I’ve always constantly said this would be a great storyline, if there’s nothing about it that would be distracting, but it could provide a great storyline, a teaching moment for an audience. Everyone knows someone with diabetes, whether it’s Type 1 or Type 2, whether it’s your parents, grandparents — I think a lot of diseases, conditions, illness, a chronic illness and disability or life that everyone knows or is has someone in their family or themselves, whether it’s an invisible illness, which is the newer part of what I’ve been talking about this.
Diabetes is an invisible illness. No one really sees it until I tell them about it or they kind of notice something. But the fact that I’m finally, after years of trying as an actor creating my own content with my writing partners and artists — they’re all back in — the idea that we can put that type of stuff into a comic book where especially superheroes and this suspension of disbelief that we all have reading comic books and watching superhero movies — that it could be connected to real life, grounded a through line — you’re asking an audience or your readers to imagine this crazy world. There’s also lessons in there for the real life experiences of the characters, going through their individual experiences.
Each character, you know, let’s say the character was diabetes, her experience is her experience. That’s why, within our story, it’s representative. But it’s not all consuming. Our story is to represent a specific three dimensional character that just happened to have a chronic illness or disability. I’m trying to represent it in addition to my own community. There is a sense that a lot of times the disability or the illness serves as the character point for the story that defines the character. And so while our series is defined by that, the essence of each of the characters is defined by them as people with disabilities. To have communities is great for people and kids civically to start at an early stage, whether it’s five or 15, to see themselves as being represented.
It just opens up a different outlook on who they are and what they could do in life. You know, a little girl seeing Wonder Woman and, and kids that have never seen an African American or Black superhero getting a full movie of them. You know, the idea that somewhere watching Black Panther could say, I want to be President one day, just something that’s not even related to superheroes — I think is important even for kids that don’t happen to suffer from any type of a disability or a chronic illness. The message would always be the driving point of the series that your perceived weakness can actually be your greatest strength. You could use it to empower yourself, you know, in our case, a superpower. But in life, you know, your powers are your powers.
Legion of Leia/Vital Thrills: I love that quote you just said. “Weakness can also be your greatest strength.” I think that’s awesome. For people who want to read this and haven’t been able to get it yet, where should they go.
Austin Basis: It all depends also on how all these talks go… because if we sign a contract, if we get into a situation where basically someone buys the property or we might have a limit on what we could do with the comic books at this point, but we ordered over 5,000 comic books and so we’ve given out possibly a quarter of them, you know, 20 percent of them. If people read this they can message us on Facebook. All they needed to do at this point is I’m a fan of the comic books.
All they need to do is contact us on our Facebook team page. Just message us there, and we’re not charging for the comic books, but obviously postage is the only thing that we were charged for it within the United States. It’s just a couple bucks, two or three dollars. It’s probably less than you would pay for them in a comic book store and that includes the postage. The comics were already paid for from the Kickstarter and we don’t feel right charging extra for that. And so the only thing that we’re asking is postage so that we can be reimbursed because as of now, our Kickstarter money has been used up for that.
Sending out the rewards, you know, we budgeted fairly well for that. It’s a grassroots effort at this point to reach out, whether it’s the LA public library system, LAUSD and you know, children’s hospital and places like that, especially around the holidays, we want to donate to them, at least a few copies to libraries and even donation sites for kids who would love to see characters like this. You can make an individual order at the Facebook page and then, if you want more, obviously it’s a conversation of how we would get them to you. Like if you have a class that you want them to. My brother’s a teacher, so I went recently to his school to have a talk about how we created a comic book, kind of like a professional development thing where I talked to the fifth to eighth grades, about 50 kids, gave out a set of comic books to each of them and talked about how we came up with the story and what the message was. That’s the type of thing that I’m looking forward to doing over the next few months.
You know, showing up places, autographing copies — I did it at the walk and during different events. At the march through JDRF, [I met] older kids with Type 1 who are just starting to kind of go off on their own in late high school, early college where they’re now living on their own and starting to branch off away from their parents, and now have to learn to be independent as a Type 1 diabetic. So there’s a conference outside of Dallas in March that I’m going to go to and bring some copies, probably just diabetes because I had extra ones of those and I have diabetes. But in any organization like JDRF, I’ve been working with them, they have this thing called the Bag of Hope, which, when contacted by newly diagnosed kids with Type 1, they sent out a gift back that is free, that includes a teddy bear, a bunch of resources for the parents, a children’s book.
And from the start of our project, we’ve been trying to get our diabetes issue about a character, a superhero character with Type 1 diabetes into the Bag of Hope. I’ve been going back and forth with the JDRF. And that’s part of what we want to do. So like, if an organization like Autism Speaks, approaches us for the character Brainstorm, which is our character on the autism spectrum, then we would love to work with that to get them however many copies they would need to, to have as a resource for kids and parents that approached them. Not just for them, but for their siblings. Because I know my, my nephew has been diagnosed earlier this year. I’m not sure where on the spectrum he falls at this point because he’s too young, but he’s going to have some follow-up tests. But he has an older brother and a younger brother. How do you comprehend what these disorders or disabilities are until you’re explain them, or somehow you see them in entertainment or media or a book, and the idea that they could read about a kid that has autism just like their brother, and see that he’s a superhero. I feel like there could only be a positive result in seeing characters like that when your brother or sister has been diagnosed with something that you don’t quite understand.
Legion of Leia/Vital Thrills: If somebody does want to make, say, a big donation to get more of these out there to different organizations. So they should just contact you over Facebook?
Austin Basis: Yes, I’ve been doing it through Venmo or Paypal right now. If we did raise money, it will be just to send out to more people, buy postage and bags and boards, like sleeves to put the comic books in, and protect them. That’s the only way at this point. There is a prospect for us if we continue on this kind of independent path, that we would be thinking in terms of doing a smaller Kickstarter for a fifth version of a comic book because at this point, each of the four of our series form the KINETIX team, it’s our origin story for each of the characters. And so by the end of the four issues, the team, the KINETIX team is formed and the idea would be the issue would be the first issue of the KINETIX as a team…It would be the first comic book – that would be all four had their superpowers and are kind of ready to face off against Gravitron.
Legion of Leia/Vital Thrills: That is so awesome. I’m so glad you did this because this is a really big deal and this is going to make a big difference for so many kids.
Austin Basis: We hope so. You know, I just saw a quote – but I think it was the creator of Nike, or I may be confusing stuff, but basically there was a quote on Instagram and it says something to the idea that a great idea is only as good as, as many people that know about it. If it doesn’t get out there, then it’s not going to have the effect that we wanted to. And that’s part of, you know, part of the reason we’re not selling them, the only way we would “sell that” means to pay for production because we want this story out, that we want the message out there and in the hands of kids that could benefit, whether they know someone with a chronic illness or disability or they themselves have one. So, you know, that’s our goal at this point. And getting the idea and the message out there is our number one goal.